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Our Favourite Ways to Encourage Children to Read

Tinies Education Special: Encouraging your kids to read can be tricky, as books are often seen as more of a chore than a pleasure! Here's how you can get your child into reading, whatever their age and stage


Reading is an essential skill we learn as children that we develop right into adulthood. Even after your children have learned to read by themselves, it's still important to read with them and encourage their curiosity in books.

As your children grow and develop, by choosing books and stories that are at their interest level, you can motivate them to improve their reading skills whilst helping to stretch their imagination and understanding.

We asked the education experts at Pearson to tell us exactly why reading is so important and how parents can make it fun for their children.

Reading with your children

Choose stories for your child's interest levelAt Pearson we are fortunate enough to be heavily involved with schools, children and books. One of our initiatives is an annual reading competition called Read for My School, and this year entrants were invited to write a letter to a child who has no books.

What would they say about what reading means to them?

"What do you see when you look at a book? Shall I tell you what I see?  A book is so much more than just words. When you open that cover you open your soul to magic, travel worlds you never thought possible, soar through the skies, meet new people who feel like your friends and grow your world around you. A book can make you laugh out loud, it can make you cry and ignite a spark of imagination. If you have a good book, you can never be bored, even if you have read it a million times already."

Alex, 12 years old, Swindon, national winner of Read for My School 2014, writing category

Why does reading with children matter?

We are often told that it's important our children read, and most of us accept that in principle, but why exactly does it matter so much?

Broadly speaking, reading matters for two equally valid reasons:

Reading inspires

Reading, as Alex from Swindon observed so eloquently, fires the imagination, encourages creativity, and helps children develop emotionally through empathy with characters and issues beyond their immediate environment.

Reading is an essential life skill

Reading for pleasure makes stronger

Children need to be able to read and write well in order to succeed academically; not just in English, but in all other subjects. More time spent reading for pleasure leads to stronger reading skills.

Competition or challenge can be good for

What is slightly less obvious, but proved over and over again in research such as that undertaken by The National Literacy Trust, is that children who read for pleasure are significantly more likely when they grow up to succeed professionally, own their own home, and vote in elections.

All of this is true, but remember that it won't cut much ice with many children. Ultimately, the only reason they will choose to read is that they think they're going to enjoy it.

How to encourage your child to read more

You can't make someone think that reading is fun any more than you can make someone find a joke funny. What you can do is help create an environment in which they may enjoy reading more. The best tactics will depend on your child's age and on their current level of enthusiasm for reading, but some things apply to everyone from toddlers to teens.

Lead by example

Try to let your child see that reading is part of your life too. There is particularly strong evidence that seeing an adult male role model as a reader has a big impact on boys' enthusiasm for reading. Even if you're not able to relax in a corner and read a book in full view of your child, you can still show that you read by talking about it from time to time and by leaving the evidence (such as books, magazines and newspapers) around the house.

Let children make their own choices

Sometimes your child might be given a book, or have one recommended to them, and they may well love it. However, you can't underestimate the importance of letting them find something they want in a library or bookshop (on the high street or online). Whether it's a picture book, a comic or The Lord of the Rings, the important thing is that they've chosen it and they will almost certainly start reading it - because they think they'll enjoy it.

Give your kids the fun stuff

If your daughter wants to read all seventy-eight books in that pink-fairy-stardust series you can't stand, then that's wonderful! You already have a child who thinks reading is fun. All of the evidence for the impact of reading for pleasure relates to exactly that: reading for pleasure. None of it indicates that you have to read Tolstoy for pleasure.

Give them more challenging options

If you feel strongly that your child is missing out on more challenging books that they would love, then at most you might try doing a deal - "Read one of these books that I think you'll love and then you can have the next instalment of pink-fairy-stardust."

But if they try a book and don't like it, don't show any disapproval and don't force the issue! See below for resources to help you select the books your children will love.

Encourage them to take part in a reading competition

For some children, an element of challenge or competition will really help with their motivation to read. If your child's school does not already take part in Pearson's Read for My School, then tell them about it. It's free to all schools and gives children access to a huge library of free books online. Another great initiative is the Summer Reading Challenge, which is delivered over the summer holidays through public libraries.

Printed books or eBooks?

It simply isn't important - budget-permitting give your child what they like, because the big benefits of reading for pleasure come regardless of whether children read eBooks or printed books. Some children will prefer the reassuring presence of a book as a physical object. Others may find reading on screen easier and more instinctively appealing.

Children with a low reading age

Whether it is due to learning difficulties, a lack of enthusiasm, English not being their first language, or any other factor, some children find that their reading isn't quite advanced enough for them to be able to access the books that are written for their age.

However, a growing number of publishers now produce great books by great authors where the language level has been lowered. This means that the characters and themes of the story are suitable for the child's real age, but that the language level also works for them.

A great place to start looking for these kinds of books is in Pearson's Rapid series, which has lots of books for a wide range of carefully measured reading levels and ages.

How to choose the best books for your child's age

If you want to help your child discover and choose suitable books by narrowing the options down to manageable lists, then there are a number of resources available:

  • Libraries and bookshops tend to arrange their books in age bands, while librarians and bookshop staff are usually very willing to make recommendations if you're looking for something specific, for example stories set in space 
  • There are a number of websites that feature book recommendations by age and gender. An excellent place to start is www.lovereading4kids.co.uk
  • If you want to look for the best new books, then look at the shortlists for the major children's book awards, many of which are also arranged in categories by age. Some of the best known awards are:

The Carnegie Medal
The Guardian Children's Book Prize
The Waterstones Children's Book Prize
The Blue Peter Book Award
The Roald Dahl Funny Prize.

More information on reading with children

Some children may need lower-language books

Further guidance from Pearson on how to encourage your child to read more can be found at Pearson - Learn at Home.



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